Interdisciplinary Research at HKU

The University seeks to take an interdisciplinary approach to tackle complex problems in today’s world. Interdisciplinarity – along with internationalisation and innovation – will enable HKU to achieve its vision of creating impact (3+1 Is). 

Strategic interdisciplinary and collaborative research initiatives

HKU has introduced a series of initiatives to foster collaboration and focus in strategic interdisciplinary research. At each stage, the University Research Committee (URC), chaired by the Vice-President (Research), seeks to 
  • assess existing strengths such as success in securing more external grants,
  • reward success through different means including providing additional matching funds/merit awards, additional quota/bidding priority for internal grants, and other resources such as research postgraduate place allocation,
  • identify potential and nurture this through seed funding, and 
  • promote interdisciplinary collaboration through organising forums, town-hall meetings, etc.
The annual URC budget earmarks HK$48m for promoting collaborative and interdisciplinary research. 
Seed Fund for Collaborative Research. This internal scheme through the URC – initially launched in 2016/17 as the Seed Funding for Strategic Interdisciplinary Research Scheme (SIRS)/Platform Technology Fund (PTF) and renamed in 2022/23, with an annual budget of HK$23m – provides seed funding to support strategic interdisciplinary and collaborative research.  It aims to help researchers build knowledge and capabilities and also raise competitiveness for mid- to large-scale external research grants/programmes. (Prior to 2020/21, HK$41m for 81 projects was awarded through SIRS and HK$27m for 28 projects through PTF). These focussed schemes evolved from the following two key initiatives.
Strategic Research Themes (SRTs). Launched in 2004, with an investment of HK$124m over three cycles covering a decade, this major exercise involved extensive consultation to identify areas where interdisciplinary collaboration offered the potential for important breakthroughs. The constituent themes, and later emerging themes, enabled the leveraging of existing strengths, identification of opportunities for new strengths, and focus on interdisciplinary synergies. It served as a platform for nurturing interdisciplinary collaborative research projects to raise competitiveness for external research grants.
Strategically Oriented Research Themes (SORTs). The VP(R), in consultation with the URC and other bodies, refined the key research areas and themes for future strategic development at HKU, introducing the SORTs initiative in 2018, with 14 research themes led by outstanding investigators, driven by new knowledge, motivated by cross-disciplinary challenges, and inspired by seeking solutions to complex problems.
Some examples of cross-disciplinary work supported through these initiatives:
Chemical Biology: (chemistry, biological sciences, biomedical sciences, clinical oncology) Supported through the SRT Drug Discovery and Synthesis/Drug, and SORT Chemical Biology for Drug Discovery; externally funded as an Area of Excellence (AoE), “The Institute of Molecular Technology for Drug Discovery and Synthesis”; hosted in the Hong Kong Jockey Club Building for Interdisciplinary Research.
Sustainable Environment: (biological sciences, civil engineering, geography, public health, computer science) Supported through the SRT Environmental Systems/Sustainable Environment, and SORT Sustainable Urban Water Environment; externally funded under the Theme-based Research Scheme (TRS), “Enhanced Separation and Sludge Refinery for Wastewater Treatment – Solving the Nexus of Pollution Control and Resource Recovery in Mega Cities”; also internal funding through SIRS leading to the TRS project “Assess Antibiotic Resistome Flows from Pollution Hotspots to Environments and Explore the Control Strategies”.  
New Materials: (chemistry, electrical and electronic engineering) Supported through the SRT Organic Optoelectronics/New Materials and SORT Functional Materials for Molecular Electronics; externally funded as an AoE “Institute of Molecular Functional Materials” and through the TRS project “Challenges in Organic Photo-Voltaics and Light Emitting Diodes—A Concerted Multi-Disciplinary and Multi-Institutional Effort”.
Infectious Diseases: (public health, biomedical sciences, microbiology, chemistry) Supported through the SRT Infection and Immunology and SORT Infectious Diseases and Microbial Resistance; externally funded as an AoE “Control of Pandemic and Inter-pandemic Influenza” and under the TRS projects “Viral, Host and Environmental Determinants of Influenza Virus Transmission and Pathogenesis” and “Molecular Basis for Interspecies Transmission and Pathogenesis of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus”; also, SIRS funding supporting the development of TRS projects “Control of Influenza: Individual and Population Immunity” and “Ecology, Molecular Virology and Pathogenesis of SARS-CoV-2: From Bedside to Bench and Back”.
FinTech: (law, business and economics, industrial and manufacturing systems engineering, geography) Supported through the SRT (China) Business and Economics and the SORT FinTech, RegTech and the Future of Finance; externally funded by the TRS project on “Enhancing Hong Kong’s Future as a Leading International Financial Centre”.   

Interdisciplinary research centres at HKU

The University is also nurturing an interdisciplinary perspective in research through establishing centres that bring together researchers from different disciplines to explore multifaceted issues. Interdisciplinary centres at HKU include the following:
  • Centre for Medical Ethics and Law
  • Centre on Contemporary China and the World 
  • Centre for Interdisciplinary Legal Studies
  • Centre for Quantitative History
  • Centre for Structural Materials 
  • Centre for the Humanities and Medicine
  • Centre for Water Technology and Policy
  • Dr. Li Dak-Sum Research Centre—The University of Hong Kong–Karolinska Institutet Collaboration in Regenerative Medicine
  • HK Institute of Quantum Science & Technology 
  • HKU Collaborative Innovation Center 
  • HKU Musketeers Foundation Institute of Data Science
  • HKU-TCL Joint Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence
  • Hong Kong Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences
  • Institute for Climate and Carbon Neutrality
  • Law and Technology Centre
  • Materials Innovation Institute for Life Sciences and Energy
  • Microelectronics Centre
  • Sau Po Centre on Ageing
  • Urban Systems Institute
(For a full list of research centres at HKU, visit 
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